Guy Louis Banarès was born 2 December 1928, at 7 Rue Popincourt in Paris, France. During his military service in Dakar (1948–49), Bourdin received his first photography training as a cadet in the French Air Force.
In 1950 he returned to Paris, where he met Man Ray, and became his protégé. Bourdin made his first exhibition of drawings and paintings at Galerie, Rue de la Bourgogne, Paris. His first photographic exhibition was in 1953. Bourdin exhibited under the pseudonym Edwin Hallan in his early career. His first fashion shots were published in the February 1955 issue of Vogue Paris. He continued to work for the magazine until 1987.
An editor of Vogue magazine introduced Bourdin to shoe designer Charles Jourdan, who became his patron, and Bourdin shot Jourdan's ad campaigns between 1967 and 1981. His quirky anthropomorphic compositions, intricate mise en scene ads were greatly recognized and always greatly anticipated by the media.
Bourdin was the first photographer to create a complex narrative, then snatch a moment—sensual, provocative, shocking, exotic, surrealistic, sometimes sinister—and simply associate it with a fashion item. The narratives were strange and mysterious, sometimes full of violence, sexuality, and surrealism. Bourdin was influenced by his mentor Man Ray, photographer Edward Weston, the surrealist painters Magritte and Balthus, and filmmaker Luis Buñuel. Although less well known to the public than Newton (also working for Vogue), Bourdin might have been more influential on the younger generations of fashion photographers.
Because Bourdin's models "often appeared dead or injured", some critics have accused him of objectifying women. His photographs were described as "highly controlled" and "famous for a mysterious sense of danger and sex, of the fearsome but desirable, of the taboo and the surreal".
Bourdin was not a natural self-promoter, and did not collect his work or make any attempt to preserve them; in fact he refused several offers of exhibitions, rejected ideas for books, and wanted his work destroyed after his death (but since he did not keep so much of his work for himself, fortunately most of it was saved). In fact, his photography only appeared in magazines because he "shunned" books, exhibits, and awards. The first major book devoted to his work was Exhibit A, released ten years after his death.
Madonna's 2003 music video for "Hollywood" was greatly influenced by the photography of Bourdin, so much so that a lawsuit was brought on against her by Bourdin's son for copyright infringement.
Guy Bourdin was a short man with a whiny voice, and had a reputation of being incredibly demanding. Dark rumours surrounded him: his mother abandoning him as an infant, the suicides of his wife and two of his girlfriends, and the cruelty in which he treated his models.
He was abandoned by his mother in 1929, the year after he was born, and was adopted by Maurice Désiré Bourdin, who brought him up with the help of his own mother, Marguerite Legay.
Bourdin married Solange Marie Louise Gèze in 1961, who gave birth to his only child, Samuel in 1967; she died of heart disease in Normandy in 1971.
1950 First exhibition of drawings and paintings at Galerie, Rue de Bourgogne, Paris, France
1952 Exhibition of photographs at Galerie 29, The catalogue includes an introduction by Man Ray. 29 rue de Seine, Paris. France
1953 Exhibition of photographs under the pseudonym "Edwin Hallan" at Galerie Huit, 8 rue St. Julien-le-Pauvre, Paris, France
1954 Exhibition of drawings at Galerie de Beaune, 5 rue de Beaune, Paris, France
1954 Contributes photographs to the C.S. Association UK touring exhibitions, in 1954–55 and 1955–57, both shown at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, England
1955 First fashion photographs are published in the February 1955 issue of Vogue Paris
1955 Exhibition of drawings at Galerie des Amis des Arts, 26 cours Mirabeau, Paris, France
1955 Exhibition of paintings at Galerie Charpentier, Paris, France
1956 Exhibition of drawings at Galerie de Seine, 24 rue de Seine, Paris, France
1957 Exhibition of paintings and drawings at the Peter Deitsch Gallery, 51 East 73rd Street, New York, US
1957 Contributes photographs to group exhibition entitled Vogue at the International Photography Biennale in Venice, Italy
1977 Contributes photographs to touring exhibition called "The History of Fashion Photography" shown at U.S. venues including the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, Rochester, New York, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, US
^"Guy Bourdin influenced a generation of photographers with sadistic images drawn from his own appetite for sexual perversion."Wood, Gaby (13 April 2003). "Death becomes her". Culture (The Observer). Retrieved 21 May 2009.